Google Doodle honors LGBTQ pioneer, Stonewall vet Marsha P. Johnson
Fifty-one years ago this week, early morning police in New York raided the Stonewall Inn, a small bar in Greenwich Village that is popular with members of the gay community. The raid sparked the Stonewall riots and became a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Marsha P. Johnson, a gay liberation activist and self-identified drag queen, has been an integral part of life in Greenwich Village for nearly three decades and a central figure in the police recoil during the Stonewall Uprising. To honor their contribution to the gay liberation movement, Google Johnson dedicated its doodle on Tuesday as part of its traditional celebration of Pride Month, an annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex community.
Johnson was born on August 24, 1945 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to a working-class family as Malcolm Michaels Jr. She started wearing clothes at the age of 5, but stopped temporarily because she was bothered by local children. After being sexually assaulted by another boy, she began to think of being gay as “some kind of dream” rather than something that was possible.
After graduating from high school in 1963, Johnson moved to New York City with $ 15 and a bag of clothes and settled in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood popular with gays and lesbians. At this time she changed her name to Marsha P. Johnson – she used to say that the P stood for “Pay it no mind”.
Despite the large number of gays and lesbians in the neighborhood, it was a difficult time to live outside of the sexual mainstream. Bars were prohibited from serving alcoholic beverages to gay people, and same-sex dancing in public was illegal, although dancing at the Stonewall Inn was allowed thanks to weekly cash payments to the police, although occasional raids still occur.
One of these raids took place on June 28, 1969, shortly after midnight at the Stonewall Inn. Johnson denied having started the uprising, but it is considered the avant-garde of those who opposed the police and subsequent riots.
After an officer hit a lesbian over the head with a truncheon, the crowd started throwing bottles, stones, and other objects at the police. Minutes later, a full-blown uprising broke out, with the crowd trying to overturn and burn police cars when some police officers and detained patrons barricaded themselves in the bar for protection.
The crowd eventually dispersed, but tensions between the police and the gay community remained high, leading to several more days of protest, some of which attracted thousands of demonstrators. As a result, several gay rights organizations formed, including the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance.
A year later, on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, thousands marched in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – the first of dozens of gay pride marches that became annual events in cities around the world.
Johnson became an AIDS activist at ACT UP and co-founded the Gay Liberation Front and Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries to help young transgender people in Lower Manhattan.
But her life was full of difficulties. She was often homeless and resorted to prostitution to survive. She was in and out of psychiatric hospitals after suffering the first of a series of breakdowns in 1970.
Johnson died in 1992 at the age of 46. Her body was found floating on the Hudson River on July 6, and the cause of death was quickly classified as suicide, although it was later classified as unspecified. In 2012, the New York City Police Department reopened the case as a possible murder case.
Tuesday’s doodle was illustrated by Los Angeles-based guest artist Rob Gilliam, who says that as a “queer person of color” he owes a lot to Johnson’s work.
“It was the catalyst for our liberation, the driving force behind the movement that has given many of us the rights and freedoms we never even dreamed of before,” Gilliam told Google. “Marsha has created a space for us in Western society by strengthening courage and refusal to be silenced.”
Elle Hearns, founder and CEO of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, says she relies on Johnson’s vision and brilliance to guide an organization build to meet the needs of the movement.
“Marsha was a pioneer in the early days of the gay liberation movement,” Hearns told CNET. “She spoke out and motivated her community to fight injustice and cruelty.
“Today I am reminded of her every day as we continue to protest against police brutality and violence specifically targeting Black + Trans women. Marsha’s incredible legacy lives on. Today we still see and feel the impact of her love and work . ”